Astra conducts a ferocious engine test for a powerful new rocket system.
Following multiple failures, including one in June that destroyed two hurricane-tracking NASA satellites, the company is pivoting to a new launch vehicle.
Astra is preparing to launch a new rocket line.
Astra, based in California, released video on Thursday (Sept. 1) of one of its engines performing a “hot fire” as the company continues to develop Rocket 4, which could begin test flights in 2023.
“We’re testing engines for our new launch system. #AdAstra,” the company tweeted (opens in new tab). There was no immediate word on the length of the fire or other testing metrics.
Following numerous failures, the company announced last month that it would discontinue production of its Rocket 3 booster line in order to focus on “the next version of its launch system.” Astra’s goal is to develop a more powerful vehicle with improved reliability and capacity, as well as to produce rockets more quickly.
The most recent loss occurred on June 12, when Astra’s Launch Vehicle 0010 (LV0010) suffered a second-stage failure minutes after departing from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Two NASA cubesats were lost, the first in a six-satellite fleet designed to track hurricanes. The Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission is weighing its options for launching the fleet.
Meanwhile, Astra’s Rocket 4 is expected to conduct test launches as early as 2023. According to Astra officials, it will tenfold the lifting mass of Rocket 3 and have a payload capacity of 1,320 pounds (600 kg) to send larger constellation fleets into orbit. That effort will be aided by an upgraded upper-stage engine.
Despite the lack of launches, business deals are still being signed; Airbus OneWeb Satellites announced a deal on Monday (Aug. 29) to receive Astra spacecraft engines for integration into Arrow commercial small satellites. (Through a joint venture, small satellite manufacturer OneWeb and aerospace giant Airbus are involved in this transaction.)
“We want to do several test flights, we want to test every component of the system, we want to test the engines, we want to test the stages, we want to test the software, we want to test the electronics,” Rocket 4 CEO Chris Kemp said during a quarterly earnings call last month.
He added that the Rocket 4 timeline will be “a lot of uncertainty” because “we want to give the team the time to do all that testing before we do another commercial launch.”
According to SpaceNews, the now-discontinued rocket group failed five times in seven launches, including test flights and earlier versions of the Rocket 3 line (opens in new tab).
Elizabeth Howell can be found on Twitter as @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (new tab) and Facebook (opens in new tab).
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